Bury the Kings is Chris Lee’s fourth full-length album. It was produced by Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, and released on Shelley’s new label, Vampire Blues.
The nine years since Lee’s last release were busy ones for the Brooklyn-based, North Carolina-bred singer-songwriter. First, he became the father of two young boys. Second, he fell into full-time work at the New York Times. Finally, he spent five years developing and starring in Red Fly/Blue Bottle, a multimedia musical theater piece that premiered at HERE Arts Center in New York, played festivals in France and the Netherlands, and at EMPAC, in Troy New York.
Meanwhile, Lee and Shelley woodshedded tunes and gigged sporadically in New York. They listened hard to The Band, to Ronnie Lane’s work with Small Faces, Faces, and solo, to David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, to New Orleans legends like Dr. John and Allen Toussaint, to Mavis Staples, and to Sade’s Lovers Rock. They found in all of these a common thread of sparseness, subtlety and simplicity which they tried to emulate on Bury the Kings.
Lee and Shelley also started a blog called Vampire Blues in 2010, both as a way of consolidating and assimilating those influences and inspirations, and as a response to the shift in the music business from atoms to bits. The blog gradually evolved into Shelley’s new imprint, the successor to his earlier label, Smells Like Records.
Musically, Bury the Kings both recalls and departs from Lee’s earlier work. The bright chords and buoyant melodies remain, though the shimmery, open-tuned guitars gave way to a more traditional, back-to-basics approach to the instrument. Lyrically, Lee tried to approach topics like war, religion, history and politics with modesty and irony, while still revelling in the tragicomic love songs he is known for.
Shelley’s drumming on the album shows how deeply he’s been influenced by titans like Al Jackson, Jr., and Earl Palmer. The keyboard playing of David Nagler, better known for his work with John Wesley Harding and the Mekons’ Jon Langford, is central to the sound of Bury the Kings, drawing on sources ranging from Billy Preston to Harold Budd.
The McClellan brothers of Dallas, TX, whom Shelley met in a Catskills barn while producing another session just weeks before starting work on Bury the Kings, rounded out the lineup in the studio. Aaron McClellan fell instantly and perfectly into the pocket with his understated bass playing, while Joey McClellan contributed a handful of crucial guitar parts. Ted Young deftly captured and mixed it all at Sonic Youth’s Echo Canyon West studio in Hoboken, NJ.
Lee’s previous albums are Chris Lee (Misra, 2000), Plays and Sings Torch’d Songs, Charivari Hymns, and Oriki Blue-Marches (Smells Like Records 2001), and Cool Rock (Misra, 2003). He has toured the U.S. and Europe, playing festivals like All Tomorrow’s Parties, SXSW, and CMJ, and sharing bills with artists such as Big Star, Sonic Youth, Low, and Tanya Donelly.
Bury the Kings was released on July 31, 2012 as a vinyl LP and as a digital download.
“One of the most distinctive voices in indie-rock” — Christian Hoard, Rolling Stone
“The city’s best (and most honest and brutal) soulful singer songwriter” — Mike Wolf, Time Out New York
“one of the best rock gigs I’ve ever witnessed.” — Christopher Porter, Washington City Paper
“Lee often brings his audiences to rapture, turning small, black-box clubs into hothouses, wild things.” — Rosecrans Baldwin, Neumu
“a perfect balance of urban poetry and Southern myth” —Stuart Berman, Eye Weekly (Toronto)
“when he lifts into that liquid falsetto, he’s the most beautiful human in the room” — Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
“Soaring, emotional rock.” — Ann Powers, The New York Times
Praise for Cool Rock:
“one of the best pop records of the year” —Stefanie Kalem, East Bay Express
“a sweet breeze of understated blue-eyed soul” — Mikael Wood, Dallas Observer
Praise for Plays & Sings…:
“Lee’s lyricism is genuinely poetic in the old-fashioned sense, as opposed to the indie-pop diary scribblings sense” — Fred Mills, Phoenix New Times
“the finest collection of singer/songwriterly soul to emerge this year.” — Phillip Sherburne, SF Weekly
Praise for Chris Lee:
“Talent this effortless is a rarity.” — Colin Helms, CMJ New Music Report
(photo by Jeffrey Henson Scales)